I love the New York Times. I really do. I don’t read it on a regular basis, in fact I don’t read it at all. My father-in-law does, from front page to the last, and he regularly emails me links to articles that he thinks I’d be interested in. And usually he’s right. Lately, many of the articles have been dealing with the effects of technology on our minds and hence our relationships.
It all started with an Op Ed piece by Steven Pinker. He posited that the burgeoning brew-ha-ha over how technology is short circuiting our brains is a bunch of fluff (only he says it with more mature words and scientific techno-babble). He set off a small maelstrom of letters to the editor by people upset over what they perceive as the downfall of intercommunications because we’re all de-evolving into a Twittering species. They fear humans will lose their ability to fully connect, to be social beings, and to develop fully-functioning interpersonal relationships.
It makes for interesting reading. I always find it fascinating when people find yet another reason why we’re all going to hell in a hand basket. I’ve never found one of those reasons or theories to hold water at the level of drama and fear the discoverers hope to engender. The thing is, it seems to me that just about everything goes in cycles.
Remember when malls started popping up all over the place? There were people (anti-mallites?) who hated them and said that they were the beginning of the downfall of the current western civilization. They said we’d never spend time outside again. Our children would grow up without the benefit of sunshine. That it would only lead to the devaluation of natural and green spaces. I didn’t quite believe it. I figured we’d get tired of being inside all the time and eventually would start building old-fashioned shopping centers with open spaces, prizing our trees and grass. And, lo, we have. I’ve been to them in Florida, Texas and here in NJ. I’m sure they’re just about everywhere now.
And I’m sure one day, we’ll be tired of dealing with the rain and snow and want only in-door facilities. Let’s face it, we’re never happy for long.
Which is why I think the fears of how the current trends in social media are destroying our interpersonal communication skills are all for naught. I believe all the new avenues of communicating via a phone, computer, iPad, etc. is fascinating to most people for a while, but then they’ll want the old-fashioned face-to-face chumminess of their past soon enough.
But even if I’m wrong, I’m still not concerned. I know, if indeed it is a sign that we’re headed toward an intellectual decline, not everyone will be going down with the ship. Throughout history there are always survivors of technical revolutions, right? So the way I see it, the people who will be bred out of existence because they’ve lost the ability to communicate in ways that require more than 140 characters, might just leave us with people who have something of substance to say. People who can only talk in the bullet points of a PowerPoint presentation, are not exactly my kind of people, so I doubt I’ll miss them. And people who think they really need to take the time to update their FaceBook status with things like “I woke up this morning” or “I’m bored on the train right now” will probably not be missed by anyone. If those people are left unable to breed, is that really a bad thing? As long as we’re able to keep the vowels in our alphabet, I’m sure the rest of us will be just fine.
So technology, bring on the brain damaging effects. Perhaps the herd needs a little thinning.